‘In Praise of Oswestry’ by Guto’r Glyn (15th century)

In coiffure and dress no women excel
Those who in Oswalds’s city dwell.
Adorned in Cheapside’s merchandise,
Harmonious her citizens, and wise.”

From ‘In Praise of Oswestry’ by Guto’r Glyn (transl DM Lloyd)

In the 15th century one of the most well known Welsh poets was Guto’r Glyn.  At that time poets were held in great esteem and received patronage from  landowners and gentry.  His poems are full of colourful descriptions of every day life and allow us modern readers to glimpse something of how things were in the medieval border towns and grand feudal estates. One of the most famous and complete poems is ‘In Praise of Oswestry’ and it is obvious that he knew the town and its inhabitants very well indeed.
Guto’r Glyn’s fame is now being revived by a University of Wales project to  reconstruct and compile a new, full collection of his surviving poetry, complete with new English translations, and descriptions of Medieval life in the 15th century.  This was recently launched in Beta version and is available here. http://www.gutorglyn.net

Guto’r Glyn wrote poems, cywyddau, that praised his patrons, and were written to be read or sung aloud.  It is a fascinating insight into the northern borders of Wales and England that poems about Chester and Oswestry and Edward IV were written in Welsh, and that he was obviously a popular poet in an area where Welsh was common place.  He describes fine living and feasts in lavish medieval homes, with a lot of interesting detail and lively descriptions which bring that world to life.

Guto’r Glyn’s early life is not well known. He was born either in Glyn Ceiriog or Glyndyfrdwy sometime beween 1412 and 1420. He was brought up in the Ceiriog and was obviously a local boy.  He was already well known as a poet by the 1430’s.  He was large, black haired and bearded and was from a farming community and once lost some sheep whilst working as a drover and was then accused of selling them in Oswestry.  In  1441 he enlisted and fought on the Yorkists side during the War of the Roses. He fought in France too. In later years he went bald and then blind and lived out his final years in Valle Crucis abbey in Llangollen, dying in about 1493
A fuller description is on Wikipedia, with references. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guto’r_Glyn
and here on National Library of Wales site    http://wbo.llgc.org….O-GLY-1440.html
There is a book about his life: Rees, E. A life of Guto’r Glyn, Y Lolfa, 2008, pp.19-20, which is still in print.

I really like this poem about Oswestry. I have used the earlier translation by Lloyd (1953) rather than that on the new Guto’r Glyn website because it seems to flow ‘more poetically’ but the new translation on the website is more accurate and has a tremendously good list of footnotes which are invaluable for research on 15th Century Oswestry..   I love the bits about fine wine shops and good beer, and well dressed ladies… Nothing’s changed then!
So the following translation is from A Book of Wales edited by D.M. and E.M. Lloyd (Collins, 1953).   I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

In Praise of Oswestry
Guto’r  Glyn c.1412- c.1493
Transl from Welsh by D.M.Lloyd

Hill-countryman in younger days,
Now with grey hairs I’ve changed my ways;
My faltering steps prefer the town,
Within its walls I’ll settle down,
My jaded stomach milk will scorn,
And calls for physic night and morn,
A wandering poet near life’s goal
Prefers his flask and pewter bowl,
Warmth and comfort and friendly cheer,
Fresh meat, white flour, and good beer.
The timbered homes of lowland lea
Restore my health like the green tree,
Hence the home which shall be mine
In Marchland where are mead and wine;
Generous and true, a friendly town,
Gracious, gifted, of high renown;
The castle with its curtain wall
Famed far as Rome above them all:
Oswald’s town, where Christ is loved,
To the conqueror a treasure proved.

The London of our Owain’s land,
With orchards rich and wine-shops grand,
A school that’s free, and of wide fame,
The town of preachers of good name;
In a temple rich the Host they raise-
Men in grammar and metrics beyond praise,
A church supreme, and jewelled chalice,
Clear bells, and an organ in God’s palace,
A tuneful choir-a well-trained band,
Vestments famed throughout the land;
Where find you clergy as good and bright
As they who serve in that temple white?
In coiffure and dress no women excel
Those who in Oswalds’s city dwell.
Adorned in Cheapside’s merchandise,
Harmonious her citizens, and wise.

A tall Earl rules that city bright,
An Earl who is England’s proud delight;
May God in his grace preserve him long
To maintain his rule, a guardian strong
Over commons and yeomen proud and free,
And citizens too of higher degree.
Among these men I too, would stay
As one of them to live my day.
My muse to leave this town no more
Would strive than the sea to leave the shore.
Long wedded here, a burgess am I,
To whom should I pay my fee, should I try?
May Oswald’s citizens hold their hand
Till hair on my head again will stand!
If suddenly I’m called five pounds to pay,
My fellows will aid me without delay.

Among gracious folk whose hearts were true,
Owain Waed Da was a burgess too;
He had only to sing among his friends
To gain his greatly coveted ends.
The privilege I seek is what came his way,
My burgess rights let none gainstay!
A cowyth I offer, a song in court-
Good poetry avoids great hurt.
The muse’s solace is a gift more blest
Than a noble of gold in the city chest;
More lasting than gold, of greater fame,
As Welshmen have sung, is our good name.
To my fellow-townsmen sing then will I
And my welcome will hold until I die:
No more will I wander without consent
To offer my song where once I went.


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